When Marlene Swafford and Jerry Berryman took their marriage vows on Feb. 10, 1951, the world was rosy. Young love was in the air but the Korean Conflict was less than a year old and Uncle Sam was providing aid to South Korea. Jerry heeded his country’s call and served in the United States Air Force for four years.
After his discharge, he and Marlene moved to College Station, Texas, where he entered Texas A&M University. In 1960, Jerry received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and set up practice in Beeville, Texas, a little over 200 miles south of College Station.
There was a one-year stay in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where Jerry performed embryo transplants in cattle. When Jerry’s boss left the Oklahoma facility, Jerry followed and the Berryman family ended up in Las Animas, Colorado, in 1975.
It was in Las Animas that Jerry built his first clinic where he cared for animals both large and small. In his retirement, though, “Doc” Berryman found he “really enjoyed his large animal friends.”
The blissful aura of youth, though, cannot last forever and on one of his trips to a VA (Veterans’ Administration) facility, “Doc” received a cancer diagnosis. Marlene indicated a social worker from the Denver facility contacted Sangre de Cristo Hospice and thus began a new chapter in the Berrymans’ lives.
Sangre de Cristo Hospice entered the Berryman household on July 1, 2015, said Marlene, with her call to them being her “own 9-1-1.” There was the realization that hospice care is a sign of life’s cessation but Marlene said she found much more with those who came to care for her husband — and her.
She described two of the hospice nurses, Kim and Kay, as being “something special” and said of hospice, “Anything we needed they did their best to get it.”
Marlene was provided with a patient handbook in which she could chart Jerry’s medication, moods and activities. In addition to that handbook and educating her on what to expect and to enable her to provide care for Jerry, Marlene said the hospice personnel provided her with one most important thing — human touch.
“Just someone to come and say ‘hi,’” she said, was most important to her.
As Marlene and many of her friends do not drive, she oftentimes feels a sense of isolation and most notably felt that emptiness as she cared for her husband. The visits from hospice, though, became a “special time” for her.
She and the nurses and other personnel “became friends,” she said. A smile crossing her face, Marlene said, “It’s hard to believe a person my age could make a younger friend.” Those friends, though, became part of an “important special time” as she began to say “good-bye” to her partner of 64 years.
When Jerry passed away, Marlene was not alone. She described those who were with her as he breathed his last as being “Christian” and that the time of his death took on a “spiritual aspect.”
He “quit breathing in the afternoon,” Marlene said. She and one of the nurses picked out a shirt for Jerry to wear as he left the house for the final time. Since Jerry “loved his Levis,” a pair was laid out as were the boots “he loved.” The nurse dressed “Doc” and then he was taken away to the funeral home and prepared for burial.
Marlene, her voice cracking, smiled as she recalled “the church was packed” for his funeral. Although “Doc” is gone, the work of hospice continues with Marlene as they continue to provide bereavement care and counseling.
After all, that’s what friends do.